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Menendez won’t run for reelection as Democrat

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(The Center Square) — Embattled New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez says he won’t be seeking reelection as a Democrat this year but is leaving open the possibility of running as an independent candidate.

In a video posted on social media, Menendez, 70, said he won’t resign from office and expects his “exoneration” from multiple federal indictments he is facing by the summer, allowing him to run in November’s general election.

“Unfortunately, the present accusations I am facing — of which I am innocent and will prove so — will not allow me to have that type of dialogue and debate with political opponents that have already made it the cornerstone of their campaign,” Menendez said in the nine-minute video. “New Jerseyans deserve better than that.”

His announcement comes days before the March 25 filing deadline for New Jersey’s Democratic primary. Polls have shown Menendez trailing between Democrats Rep. Andy Kim and first lady Tammy Murphy in the race. Several Republicans are running for the Senate seat.

Federal prosecutors unsealed a 39-page indictment in September accusing Menendez and his wife of accepting gold bars, cash and other bribes in exchange for wielding his political influence for Egypt and his business friends.

A month later, federal prosecutors filed a new indictment accusing Menendez of acting as a “foreign agent” for Egypt by shepherding billions in military aid that previously had been denied to the country over its record of human rights abuses. Then, a second superseding indictment, filed in January, unveiled new accusations Menendez accepted gifts from the Qatari government.

Earlier this month, the Justice Department unveiled a new indictment charging Menendez with 16 criminal counts accusing him and his wife of trying to cover up the bribery scheme when the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York began investigating.

Menendez has pleaded not guilty to the charges and denied any wrongdoing. He has refused to step down despite calls from fellow Democrats, including New Jersey Gov Phil Murphy and Sen. Cory Booker.

This is the second time Menendez has been indicted on bribery allegations while a senator. In 2015, he was charged with illegally accepting favors from a Florida physician, including trips on a private jet, vacations to Paris and more than $700,000 in political contributions.

The case ended in a mistrial after jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict. Following the mistrial, a federal judge in 2018 acquitted Menendez and co-defendant Dr. Salomon Melgen of several charges. The Justice Department dropped the remaining charges against the senator. He was elected that year to a third term with 54% of the vote, according to New Jersey election results.

The Menendez trial is expected to get underway in May, according to federal prosecutors. The deadline to file to run as an independent candidate is June 4.

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